Having seduced abromeds into marathoning Breaking Bad in its entirety, I was delighted when she challenged me for meta around the subject of "Breaking Bad: Greek Tragedy? Shakespearean? Or WHAT?"

Now, I am a pedantic German who knows her Lessing who knew his Aristotle. Tragedy, as defined by the master of Greek meta: a tale wherein the main character is brought down by a combination of external circumstance and his/her own flaws. Which isn't how the word is mostly used today by the media - wherein "tragedy" usually means "calamity which befalls innocent people" - or in in pop culture understanding, where the hero of a tragedy is usually supposed to be character not only sympathetic but upstanding, with the flawed variety referred to as antiheroes. (Which would have been confusing to the Greeks, because their heroes, well, if they don't get mad and slaughter their families, or kill family members without any madness involved and instead good old fashioned revenge, they let their wives die for them, or cheat their comrades in arms out of armour and life, or, well, you get the picture. Mind you, I'm always a bit bewildered that Aristotle picked Sophocles' Oedipus, out of all Greek tragedies, as an example for a perfect combination of circumstance and internal flaws, because I can't see that. Oedipus, for a Greek hero, is actually among the more upstanding characters. His one genuine flaw is his hot temper and it contributes to his fate in as much as it's the cause why he gets into an argument with a stranger on the street which ends in him killing the stranger. This is not a habit with him, and he certainly didn't know that the stranger in question was actually his biological father. Otherwise, Oedipus' tragedy is all triggered by external circumstance and because the gods truly have it in for him. First his father gets the prophecy that Oedipus will one day kill his father and marry his mother and promptly has the baby exposed. (If that had not happened, nothing else would have.) Then Oedipus, when grown up after the usual myth elements of kind shepherds and friendly childless couples in adoption mode, , hears the same prophecy, naturally assumes this means his adopted parents, the only ones he knows, and leaves them in horror, determined to stay away so that he never, ever can fulfill that prophecy. (Oedipus, out of all the Greek mythological characters, did not have an Oedipus complex.) Cue stranger on the road, later encounter with the sphinx and marrying the widowed queen of Thebes, where he spends some happy years as a ruler with sons and daughters before the plague strikes and the whole truth is discovered. In conclusion: there is a reason why a French version of this is called The Infernal Machinery. Not nearly enough of these events are caused by Oedipus himself because of his own flaws. But then, a catastrophe out of all proportion as a net result is very Greek.

The problem with defining something as "Shakespearean tragedy" is that Will S. himself by no means wrote all his tragedies following the same rules or categories. Romeo and Juliet, until Mercutio gets killed, might just as well be a comedy. The Merchant of Venice, which is supposed to be a comedy, almost never gets performed as one today, and that's not all due to the Holocaust having happened; even in the nineteenth century, Shylock was often called a tragic character caught in the wrong type of play. King Lear, otoh, admirably qualifies as far as Lear himself is concerned - his flaws lead directly to his fate, and this is more or less true of Gloucester as well - but what about Cordelia, and the Fool? Whose tragedy is Julius Caesar anyway - Brutus', Caesar's, Antony's? And while we're talking history: the two dramas about ursurpers, Richard III and Macbeth, have main characters who are heroes in the traditional dramatic sense (main characters), but not in the modern pop culture one. Shakespeare's Richard III laughs at all the current popular villains and their fans because he did that "ruthless villain charms audience by being smarter and more eloquent than anyone else, gets UST scene with good person and seduces same" centuries ago. Ditto Macbeth with the whole "character starts out heroic, gets darker and darker, is, however, capable of intense affection towards partner" arc. However, both Richard and the Macbeths live in a dramatic universe where their very act of ursurpation means they cannot, in the end, remain successful. Their eventual failure isn't solely due to inherent character flaws, bad planning or the efforts of their antagonists, who in another drama would be the protagonists: it is pre-ordained because their assumption of power goes directly against the divine right of kingship.

You can see why I'm hesitant to call Breaking Bad either Greek or Shakespearean, though it certainly has elements of both. One sense in which people today use the term "Shakesperean" is to signify dramatic events on an epic scale and the mixture of humor into the bloodshed instead of unrelentic gloom and doom. (My teacher, back when I was an impressionable teenager, used Shakespeare to illustrate what "comic relief" means in classic drama, because who else? This description certainly fits Breaking Bad, but it is awfully general.

Let me draw another show in. The Wire has its share of personal tragedies - has it ever! - and several of these certainly come about by a mixture of circumstance and personal flaws, but most of all it strikes me as a tragedy of systems. In fact, the very point of the show, hammered in again and again, in season after season, is that every single system that gets focused on is so inherently corrupted and destructive that failure of the individuals sooner or later is inevitable. The Game, to quote one character, is rigged. For everyone - criminals, cops, teachers, students, politicians, the media. The Wire is far more Shakesperean in that sense, only with reverse trajectory. Richard III and Macbeth cannot stay on top because they are ursurpers and live in a dramatic world where ursurpation is against nature and ALWAYS gets punished; the various attempts at reform in The Wire cannot prevail for long because all the systems are too inherently destructive. You can, at best, help some individuals and salvage a few friendships, and even that is by no means granted; you cannot beat the system you're in.

In Breaking Bad, the only system which doesn't work is the health care one - which is an initial plot point, granted, and then one in mid season 3 -; but capitalism itself works, and so does criminal enterprise. So, for that matter, does the police. Walter White goes from nobody in two ill paid jobs to drug kingpin by a combination of lucky (well, for him, not for anyone else) circumstance, hard work and skills. Jesse Pinkman goes from small time crook and (bad) meth cook to brilliant meth cook and multiple millionaire. Hank Schrader has his share of set backs, but he steadily rises through the DEA ranks because of, again, hard work and smarts. Of course, none of these career highs are the end of the show, but the fact of the matter remains: there is no system in the Breaking Bad verse that inherently is set up to bring you down. Not even the American health care system, sucking as it does; it's important that as of episode 4 in the first season, Walter White gets presented with an alternative to his meth producing scheme. He gets offered not only enough money to pay for all medical expenses he and his family will have in the course of his cancer treatment but also a job opportunity that would end his need to teach chemistry to apathetic students who don't care. He could do the chemistry he loves, legally, and without hurting anyone. All he has to do is swallow his pride, as the offer comes from his former partners whom he still feels betrayed by. But Walt, displaying for the first time in full force that all time favourite attribute of Greek heroes, hubris, is not capable of this and rather chooses crime.

From here on, it gets spoilerly for the rest of Breaking Bad, so newbies beware! )
selenak: (Bruce and Tony by Corelite)
( Jun. 4th, 2012 07:12 pm)
Avengers stories I will never read but would love to:

1.) Loki makes a pass at Avenger X. X is not remotely impressed or flustered and turns Loki down. Loki makes a sarcastic comment about X' own killing record/ that of the other Avengers and hypocritical self righteousness etc.; Avenger X replies, sincerely, that Loki's death score and psycho teenager emotional make-up aren't the problem, it's just that X doesn't consider Loki remotely hot.

2.) Darcy, having resumed her studies of political science after the accidental stint with Jane Foster which was never meant to be permanent, gets offered a job with SHIELD/Stark Industries/other Avengers-related employment. Since said job has nothing to do with what she was studying and since she actually cares about her chosen field of study, she turns the offer down and never crosses paths with superheroes again other than reading about them in the newspapers. She does, however, end up heading a Think Tank.

3.) Phil Coulson is being far too professional to entertain a relationship with agents whose handler he is (read: Hawkeye and Black Widow); also, he's asexual and happy with it, as one or both of them find out when early on, not knowing him very well yet, they make a pass at him because that's the type of exploitative handler/agent situation they're used to.


And those are your Avengers comments for the day. Here are recs in other fandoms.

Pirates of the Carribean: A fine woman and an honorable man make peace. Excellent missing scene from Dead Man's Chest between Norrington and Elizabeth while they're both on board the Pearl.

Citizen Kane: The Union Forever. [personal profile] likeadeuce linked me to this CK vid, and an good one it is, too.
Title:  Terms

Disclaimer: Characters and situations owned by whoever holds the rights to Citizen Kane now.

Rating:  PG 13

Summary:  Charlie wants to make a point. So does Jed.

Timeline: during the period of getting kicked out of boarding schools together.

Author's note: for [personal profile] likeadeuce, who in return for guessing my Remix main fic wanted a Leland/Kane drabble. This is a bit too long for a drabble but not long enough for a story, so I'll call it a vignette.


Read more... )
selenak: (BuffyDawn - Twinkledru)
( Jan. 27th, 2009 09:13 pm)
Citizen Kane:

The Hay Scale: a glimpse at young Charlie Kane and Jed Leland, which manages to capture so much about the relationship and about Kane, and does so in an elegant subtle way. It's one of those "you can imagine the actors saying those lines" cases.

Buffy:

Ophelia's Reconstruction, set during the summer between season 5 and 6, this is a Tara point of view. I loved Tara pretty much from the moment she showed up in Hush, and this story is a good demonstration of why. It also does justice to the reality of grief, and offers great glimpses at Xander and Dawn. (The Xander scenes in particular made me wish we'd have gotten more interaction between him and Tara on screen.)

The Three Musketeers:

Some day, I'm going to write my own Dumas meta. Meanwhile, I'm glad when other people do. This post takes on one of my pet peeves* - Milady de Winter (one of my favourite villainesses), the backstory which is supposed to make us feel sorry for Athos but even when I was a teenager made me feel sorry for Milady instead, and the general rendition of her fate.
Today my Special Edition DVD of Citizen Kane arrived, prompting my inner Orson Welles fangirl to squee. Incidentally, Kane isn't even my favourite Welles movie; depending on my mood, I favour Othello, Chimes at Midnight or Touch of Evil. But there's something breathtaking in seeing those familiar images of Citizen Kane in the immaculate, pristine DVD quality, and to hear those familiar voices so clearly. Welles' voice in particular. As Simon Callow has said, it was "quite simply a gift from God, a natural instrument equivalent, in speech, to the singing voice of a Gigli or a Chaliapin". (He goes on to say that Welles' voice "flattered and stimulated", with "the smile being positively audible, as is the arched eyebrow". Callow's biography of O.W. is somewhat controversial among Wellesians, but for my money, it's the most compelling simply because Callow manages to bring Welles' theatre productions alive in the way only another actor can, not to mention Orson himself - as he sees him, certainly, but it's an immensely fascinating character he describes.)

So far, I've watched the audio commentary by Ken Barnes. Who manages to maintain a delicate balance in the "who wrote what in Citizen Kane" debate, otherwise repeats familiar anecdotes and gives some details on how particular scenes were shot and composed that were new to me. As audio commentaries by film historians go, it was a good but not great one. But then again, maybe that's an advantage, because it allows the viewer to devote just a tad more attention to the picture than to the commentary, and no matter how often I've watched Kane, there is still something left to discover. This time, for example, I realized that during the conversation between Leland and Bernstein at the party early on, Kane remains clearly mirrored in the window behind them the entire time. There is something simultaneously endearing and exasperating in the "Look! Look what I can do! Look how brilliant I am!" dazzle of Citizen Kane. (Something which I imagine a great many people felt in Welles' presence, too.) But as the years go by, I'm more struck by the mixture of affection and cruelty the movie displays for its characters, which is something Welles would go on to do in future endeavours. Susan, Kane's second wife, might be silly and not too bright, but as the cruelty of what he does to her, forcing her on the stage to endure humiliation after humiliation in the guise of celebration, starts to sink in, it's hard not to feel for her, and when she finally leaves him, one cheers. "Oh yes, I can." At the same time, Susan does not end up a liberated woman, or even one at peace; when we meet her, she's unhappy, forced to cash in on the Kane name and the career she didn't want to support herself, with a tendency to drink too much (which is a parallel to Kane's old friend Leland). And yet Susan is not dismissed as hopeless. "Look," she says in her final scene, the sun shining on her face, "look, what d'ya know, it's morning!"
Leland, on the other hand, who of all the characters has the most insight without ever seeing it all, is stuck in the perpetual twilight of his old age when we meet and leave him. As opposed to Bernstein, who loves Kane uncritically but never presumes to understand him, and Susan, who doesn't love him but starts out liking Kane, comes to hate him through their marriage and ultimately to pity him, Leland loves him and never manages to forgive him. Male friendships and mutual betrayal is a favourite Welles theme; those friendships almost always can be called love, cut much deeper than the male/female relationships in his pictures (though Welles, as opposed to many other directors concentrating on male friendships, is capable of presenting interesting women in the same opus), and the betrayal is inevitable sooner or later. The relationship between Charles Foster Kane and Jed Leland is the first variation of this theme, and of course the rapport between Welles and Joseph Cotton, friends in real life, helps to make it so memorable - as it does in the film Welles did not direct but ironically became most famous for due to what is not much more than a cameo, The Third Man - another tale of male friendship and mutual betrayal, among other things).
"You want to persuade people you love them so much that they ought to love you back. But you want love on your own terms."
"A toast, then, Jedediah, to love on my own terms. Which are the only terms anybody ever knows. His own."
.

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